After Superman encounters the Machinist enslaving people in the country of Georgia, all signs point to Lex Luthor as the culprit. Of course, Luthor is a good guy and has been for some time, even sporting a big robotic suit with an S on the front. That doesn’t make it any easier to trust him as Superman teams up with Lex to search for answers. Granted, he just fought side-by-side with Lex in the previous issue.
The central plot point of Action Comics #985 from DC Comics hinges on Lex Luthor’s technology being used for nefarious means without his knowledge. This wouldn’t be that bad if we didn’t see a very similar idea in last week’s Green Arrow #28. Oliver Queen handles it a bit better than Superman does.
When Rebirth began, this Superman was from a pre-Flashpoint Earth where Lex Luthor was a villain. The Lex of the New 52 has been working on the side of the angels for awhile and Superman came to terms with that. He seems to have forgotten that here, jumping right to judgment. He’s ready to convict Luthor right on the spot. Again, these two JUST fought together along with a number of other heroes against a collection of Superman’s greatest foes in the issue that directly preceded this one. Here it’s like none of that happened.
It’s this, and artist Guillem March’s designs for Luthor that make this issue feel like a pre-Rebirth, and maybe even pre-Flashpoint story. Luthor is sporting a green suit and is so full of smarm. He’s slimy and so completely full of himself. That is a contrast to the calm, collected tactician he’s portrayed of late.
Luthor jumps into action alongside Superman. The duo fly off to India, capes billowing in the wind, to confront the Machinist head-on. March excels here with some bombastic panels. Superman in action is the hero we’ve known him to be for over 75 years. The guy tackles elephants! Lex is forced to rely on his wits alone in this battle and that proves to be more his style.
There is one very awkward looking panel towards the end of the book. You’ll probably know it when you see it. Lex and Superman have just landed and the former is on the ground. Superman is standing above him, shielding him from the oncoming elephants. I assume he’s supposed to be standing in front of him, but the image has him straddling Luthor. If Lex sits up, he’s going to get a face full of Super-Butt. It’s disappointing as it’s a very strong panel, showing the strength and confidence of the Last Son of Krypton as a herd of mind-controlled pachyderms rampage towards him. It’s just that he’s literally standing on top of Lex.
At the end of the day, Action Comics #985 is a filler issue and the beginning of a filler arc. It’s a nice little side adventure for Superman and Lex Luthor. Writer Rob Williams makes a noble effort, but it’s not going to move the overall narrative forward. The Machinist is capable of being a terrifying villain in the digital age. Here, he’s portrayed as a cross between the Mad Hatter and Toy Man which could work. He doesn’t appear to have much of a plan aside from spreading chaos. The solicitation for this issue references Mr. Oz, but he does not appear at all. Maybe that’s who the Machinist is working for.